OMG moments are rare enough in places like Hill Auditorium, where you’ve paid nearly three figures to see some recognized genius. I had one at the Old Town Tavern, where the price of admission was a $7 glass of Malbec.
A friend dragged me down there to hear her music teacher, bassist Dave Sharp. We sat at the bar, opposite the nook where musicians set up shop a few times a week from 8 to 10 p.m., so she could watch him play the instrument she’s just begun to learn. I could have touched the back of oud player Igor Houwat’s chair with my foot. (The oud is a relative of the mandolin, and, from the sound of its Wikipedia page, a complicated and high-maintenance relative at that.) Sharp has been playing in Ann Arbor for years in various bands and numerous genres, but lately he’s settled into a kind of hybrid he calls “world jazz,” a fusion of his own invention. He explains–later, privately, because there’s a marked lack of explanation in his performances, where the music ripples pretty much uninterrupted–that jazz, our homegrown American art form, melds surprisingly well with “world music.” What the heck is world music, anyway? He wryly defines it as “a category invented by the music industry that describes anything that’s not American.”
Sharp’s delicate, deliberate playing glues the band together. His bass can be anything from roundly tonal to sharply rhythmic. He’s also a maestro of musical blending. Over the years he’s put together pick-up groups of all kinds, like Dave Sharp’s Secret 7, so named because it was often a secret, even to him, whether he could assemble seven musicians and who they would be on any given night. “Lately,” he says, “I’ve been finding that I like playing in trios and quartets a little better. It’s a more cohesive unit. And,” he adds candidly, “everyone gets paid more.” This quartet features himself on bass; the rich acoustical accents of percussionist Mike List; Houwat’s sparkling, many-stringed oud; and Henrik Karapetyan on violin.
That night, the first three began pleasantly enough. All are virtuosos in their own right, and they eased into their complicated exotic rhythms, taking turns on lead. The OMG moment came about halfway through the first set, when Karapetyan arrived. He had been delayed for some reason, and it was suddenly clear that the rest of the quartet had been holding back, musically treading water. Karapetyan did a running dive into a whirling, frenzied gypsy number, and the show started for real, a kaleidoscope of undulating gypsy, klezmer, Persian, and North African music, interspersed with their jazz variations, sometimes combined with music that frankly I don’t know how to categorize.
When they passed the pitcher, I put in $5. I was later ashamed of myself–my ticket to the Takacs Quartet, which I’d seen recently at Rackham, had cost $56. That would have been a much fairer price for this sublime evening.
The Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet will be at the Ann Arbor Distilling Company on Thursday, April 6.